The closest thing New Zealand has had to a teen drama is the early-2000s' Being Eve, which followed nerdy and precocious Eve Baxter as she navigated high school. Being Eve tackled important issues like family and relationship drama, but wasn't what you'd call a real reflection of a New Zealand teenager's experience.
Not only does the brand new, eight-part series This Is Piki show a more realistic likeness of young people in this country, they're also Māori, with all the different perspectives and realities that entails.
If you had to compare it, This Is Piki is more Skins than Being Eve, and gives a frank portrayal of parties, sexting and dysfunctional whānau. The bilingual show also depicts the sense of pride and purpose kapa haka and te reo Māori gives many rangatahi, as much a part of life as school, family and friends.
The show is set in Rotorua, where Piki works part time for the Kapua whānau at their concert and hangi experience.
18-year-old newcomer Hinerauwhiri Paki plays Piki, who shares more than a passing resemblance to her character. A passionate kapa haka performer, she also gives performances at a tourist attraction in Wairakei near Taupo.
The youngest of nine, Paki grew up in Turangi, and was home-schooled in a family kura in Pūkawa. She's also a member of Tāreikura, the Māori performing arts academy for young women whose Poi-yonce rehearsal video went viral earlier in the year.
The video caught the attention of producers and Paki found herself being asked to audition for the role.
Paki says coming from a large, creative family made it easier to take the first step into acting. "I grew up with a performing family—artists and singers. Not just my immediate family but all my cousins and aunties and uncles too.
"The first scene I did, it wasn't as scary as I thought it was going to be. I instantly felt comfortable. It did help that the camera man was my cousin."
With very few reflections of New Zealand, and especially Māori and Pacific, youth in television drama, it feels like a watershed moment in television history. Paki is too modest to hope that it will have a huge effect on people, but she does think Piki might be a good role model.
"So many young Māori don't know how to follow their dreams. Where to start, how to go about it. You'll see how stubborn Piki is, how passionate she is. She won't stop until she gets to where she wants to go.”
The first thing that sets This Is Piki apart is its smooth aesthetic—it’s a beautifully shot show, belying a pretty modest budget compared to other New Zealand dramas. The soundtrack is nicely curated from local urban and hip-hop artists, in both English and te reo, and new flourishes such as scenes being intercut with Snapchat videos and texts make the production feel contemporary. The aspects of social media that are so much a part of daily life for rangatahi are worked seamlessly into the story.
"It's a good reflection of rangatahi... but maybe sometimes a little bit dramatic," laughs Paki.
In the first episode, drama comes courtesy of Ani (Rickylee Russell-Waipuka), daughter of Huia and Te Maru Kapua who employ Piki. Ani's jealously is piqued when Piki is earmarked to be the new kaea for the kapa haka group and she uses love interest, Carl (Born To Dance's Tia Maipi) to get revenge.
As well as the hot new talent, Piki also features old-hands like Temuera Morrison as flash family patriarch Bill Mercer, Calvin Tuteao as his hard-working and overshadowed brother Te Maru and Vanessa Rare as Piki's forever-partying nana, Tarnz. It’s a very funny script, with characters like Ani’s brother Rongo (Eds Eramiha), the clueless entrepreneur, and Piki’s gay best friend, Louie (Kimo Houltham) adding colour to the canvas with perfectly delivered one-liners.
Funny, stylish and yes, soapy, This Is Piki is also forthright in dealing with teen sexuality, which is presented refreshingly without a story arc that punishes a young female character for wanting to have sex. Piki makes her own choices, and makes it clear that it’s also her right to say no.
Paki admits that although she was fine filming love scenes, it was a lot of pressure for a first-time actress. “It wasn't until the last week that we filmed those scenes and because I knew that they were coming, I mentally prepared myself. I was lucky to have an amazing crew that made me feel comfortable. Even though my cousin was there. Awkward!"
This Is Piki premieres 8pm Thursday 7 July, click here to watch episode one.